Trauma Vs PTSD: What’s the Difference?

trauma vs ptsd

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With June officially being PTSD awareness month, it’s important to know its significance and how it differs from trauma. Though PTSD and trauma are thought to be synonymous, they are very different entities. Symptoms of trauma vs PTSD not only yield very different responses, but they also require very unique treatment.

Understanding the distinctions between the two are a vital asset to approach your condition appropriately and effectively. Here is everything you need to know about the difference between trauma vs PTSD and how to treat these separate conditions properly. Jaywalker in Carbondale, Colorado can help.

How Are Trauma and PTSD Different?

Trauma vs PTSD is comparing causes to conditions. That’s why a better way to understand the difference between trauma and PTSD is to know their distinct definitions. Trauma is defined specifically as an emotional impulse or reaction to traumatic life occurrences. PTSD, on the other hand, is a mental health disorder that is acquired from a root trauma.

Though a root trauma can cause PTSD, not all traumas lead to acquiring the disease. You can have traumatic experiences and underlying trauma without having PTSD. That’s why it is important to understand that PTSD is a progressive disorder stemming from trauma. Trauma can certainly cause disorders. However, in regards to trauma vs PTSD, trauma is not a disorder in and of itself.

What Traumas Cause PTSD?

There are a variety of contributing factors to PTSD, nearly all stemming from several different traumatic experiences. Here are several underlying traumas that frequently cause post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sexual or Physical Abuse

Any form of abuse stemming from childhood or early adulthood is a common cause of PTSD. This form of abuse in adolescents, however, doesn’t manifest PTSD symptoms until adulthood. What makes this underlying trauma so dangerous to mental health, is many people suffer in silence. Therefore, many people with sexual abuse-induced PTSD can go undiagnosed.

Life-Threatening Events

Any life-threatening occurrences are among the most traumatizing experiences one can encounter and everyone’s mind has diverse chemical responses. Since everybody reacts differently to trauma, some process trauma without producing additional mental health conditions. Others, however, develop PTSD at varying moments. Not all of which arise immediately. Consult a physician to conduct a professional assessment for potential PTSD symptoms and conditions.

Witnessing Traumatizing Experiences

Almost as traumatic as going through life-threatening or traumatizing experiences, is witnessing such events firsthand. Many who witness these events can acquire Post-traumatic stress disorder to the same severity as those who go through them. One of the most common emotional PTSD reactions to witnessing traumatic instances is survivor’s guilt.

Traumatizing Military Experience

Roughly 7 percent of all individuals who serve in the military will acquire PTSD. Those numbers skyrocket among those who see action in war-related situations. Military experience poses the highest risk of acquiring PTSD than any other traumatic experience.

What are the Most Common Signs of Trauma in Adults?

Adults share similar mental and physical trauma indicators to that of teens and adolescents but in very different settings under very diverse circumstances. Noticing and reacting proactively to the following signs of trauma can help you or someone you love gets the help they need.

Distancing Yourself from Friends and Family

It can be difficult to express in words that you need treatment for an underlying trauma. Consequently, these traumas can make even the simplest form of communication with friends and family difficult. That’s why shutting yourself down from friends and family is a natural response to traumatic experiences. This trait is a coping mechanism for individuals who don’t know how to convey or express their emotions. Jaywalker’s caring therapists can teach you vital coping techniques to help you read, process, and react proactively to negative circumstances. This, in turn, helps you communicate your feelings, emotions, and struggles to loved ones who want to help.


If you or someone you care about is exhibiting signs of extreme sadness or depression, it may stem from underlying traumas. This symptom, especially when noticeable, should never be overlooked. Any sign of depression should be met with swift and proactive action by seeking help immediately. If left untreated, trauma-induced depression leads to worsening mental health and PTSD symptoms up to and including suicide. Seek immediate medical assistance if you begin to have extended bouts of unexplainable sadness or suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Trust Issues

If you have trouble trusting anybody but yourself, it may be due to a trauma that occurred early in life. That’s why some adults struggle so much with placing faith or trust in others. Oftentimes, this means you will also struggle to trust even your closest friends and relatives. Seek medical assessment if you have a problem trusting even those closest to you.

Flashbacks or Vivid Nightmares

This sign is as equally an indication of severe mental or physical trauma as it is PTSD. People who suffer from trauma-related PTSD will have flashbacks related to their traumatic experiences. These flashbacks are terrifying experiences that cause the trauma sufferer to relieve their troubling life experiences. Thankfully, the scenic setting at Jaywalker and its highly-skilled therapists are a perfect match to alleviate flashback-related anxiety.


People who have endured traumatizing experiences will often have difficulty sleeping. The cause of trauma-induced insomnia varies depending on the individual. For example, one may have trouble sleeping due to flashbacks or dreams stemming from their traumatization. Others may have difficulty staying asleep, waking up throughout the night because of racing thoughts. Whatever the source of your insomnia may be, medically-assisted therapy is the only treatment method to improve trauma-related sleep deprivation.

What are the Signs of Trauma in Teens and Adolescents?

Signs of trauma can be difficult to visually assess in teens and young adults. This is mainly because most children aren’t yet capable of processing or conveying their trauma-related thoughts, experiences, and concerns. However, these concerns often manifest themselves in the following apparent signs and traits.

Self-Esteem Issues

Lack of self-esteem or second-guessing yourself is an underlying sign of childhood trauma. That’s because low self-esteem issues often manifest themselves as a result of mental or emotional trauma. This can be due to being in a narcissistic environment and several other environmental factors. While some degree of low confidence is normal among children, abnormalities or severely low self-esteem could indicate a deeper issue.

Easily Scared or Flinchy

Being easily skittish or flinching at sudden movements may be a sign of a child who has endured traumatic experiences. Take notice of any child that appears edgy in otherwise relaxed settings or non-worrisome environments. As simple as these reactions may seem, it’s important not to overlook the warning signs of a child who may be conveying silent cries for help. Take proactive action if you notice this subtle behavioral cue in a child you know.

Little or No Desire to Spend Time with Family or Friends

Children who have been through traumatizing situations often close themselves down from everyone. Adults socially withdraw themselves in their way. Teens and adolescents, however, will exhibit this behavior by spending extended and abnormal periods in their rooms alone. They will also be extremely quiet and often provide one-word answers to questions that usually require more explanation.

Rebellious Behavior

Adolescent rebellion often has a root cause for such behavior. One of those underlying reasons for childhood rebellion is an unspoken or unknown trauma. This behavior is often an emotional expression of that trauma. That means when a child is overwhelmed by trauma, their inability to properly express or communicate their pain manifests itself in rebellion. Before overreacting to a child’s rebellious behavior, seek out the potential root cause of their behavior. This may consist of reaching out to an adolescent therapist for PTSD assessment.

Easily Irritable

Any teen that is easily provoked or quick to anger may be exhibiting a red flag of underlying trauma. If your child or someone you know is easily irritable even in the most minor circumstances, don’t ignore the signs. This irritability may be a silent cry for help from a teen bottling up the impact of traumatization. Top-notch treatment from our team of dedicated therapists may be the antidote they need to alleviate trauma-based irritability.

How Does PTSD Impair Teen Development?

PTSD symptoms are especially harmful to teens and adolescents because their minds haven’t fully developed. In cases of trauma and PTSD, these mental impacts can stunt a teen’s cognitive, social, and overall mental development. That’s why it’s that much more vital to get a teen assessment for potential PTSD or other trauma-related mental health conditions.

Jaywalker Can Help You Win the War of Trauma vs PTSD

trauma and ptsd difference

Trauma vs PTSD is a two-fold battle you can’t win on your own. Yet, thanks to Jaywalker’s unparalleled treatment resources, you can not only win the battle, but you can also win the war. War isn’t won alone. Find out how much strength in numbers you have by reaching out to the greatest support groups treatment can provide. Jaywalker will help you make the journey relaxing and in many cases enjoyable with unmatchable dedicated support groups. Take the plunge by taking that first step to a stress-free life by reaching out today.


author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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